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Written Statements

Volume 711: debated on Wednesday 3 June 2009

Written Statements

Wednesday 3 June 2009

Armed Forces: Repatriation

Statement

My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Bob Ainsworth) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Ministry of Defence has recently amended its policy for the repatriation of deceased service personnel from operational theatres. Henceforth, all service men and women who die on operations overseas will be afforded a ceremonial repatriation, regardless of the manner of their death.

Under a strict application of the previous policy, only those personnel “killed in action” or who “died of wounds” acquired as a result of enemy action qualified for a ceremonial repatriation. The policy for all other fatalities suffered in operational theatres was that, while they would be repatriated with all due dignity, any ceremony would be reserved for a military funeral if the family requested one.  

However, it has been our recent practice to ensure that all fatalities from operational theatres are afforded a ceremonial repatriation unless their families expressly request otherwise. This best meets the expectation of families of deceased personnel, the services and nation—that those who die while serving their country on operations, whatever the actual circumstances of their death, should be honoured on their return. It is therefore right and proper that we ensure that our policy is brought in line with what is a wholly appropriate practice.

There are no plans to amend the policy for the movement of deceased personnel within the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland.

EU: Justice and Home Affairs Council

Statement

The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council will be held in Luxembourg on 4 and 5 June 2009. My noble friend Admiral Lord West, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Kenny MacAskill) and I will attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. The following issues will be discussed at the council.

The council will start in mixed committee with Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein, during which Ministers will be asked to adopt council conclusions on the future direction of the second generation of the Schengen information system. These conclusions propose that the development of SIS II continues on the basis of the current SIS II platform with stronger project management in place and milestones to assess progress. The conclusions propose a contingency plan based on a SIS I platform be retained until tests defined in the project milestones are successfully completed. 

Ministers will also be asked to adopt council conclusions on a co-ordinated EU approach to the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.   The UK supports the draft council conclusions, believing them to be clear and not tying any member state into receiving ex-detainees, while providing a framework for those that do.  The UK has already taken 14 ex-detainees, either British nationals or individuals previously legally resident in the UK.  There is one UK resident remaining in Guantanamo and the Government are committed to securing his release.   The UK will not be accepting additional detainees. 

The presidency will provide an update on the implementation of the regulation establishing the visa information system (VIS).  The UK does not participate in this regulation.

After the mixed committee there will be a political debate on the asylum package to take forward development of the common European asylum system. This package consists of five asylum proposals recently published by the Commission: the asylum reception conditions directive, Dublin and Eurodac regulations, the European Asylum Support Office and European Refugee Fund.  With the exception of the reception conditions directive, the UK has opted in to all these measures. The UK will outline its vision on what the EU should be doing on asylum and encourage further in-depth discussion on the direction of the proposals.

The Commission will present a progress report on the development of guidelines, due to be published in July, on the implementation and application of the free movement directive (2004/38/EC). The UK is working with the Commission to ensure that the guidelines will allow member states to deal with individuals who abuse the right to free movement.  The UK will also use this opportunity to stress the importance of free movement issues in the future justice and home affairs (JHA) work programme (Stockholm programme).

The council will discuss key issues around combating illegal immigration in the Mediterranean, focusing in particular on work with Libya. The Government recognise the significance of these immigration flows and support strong EU co-operation on this issue.  This discussion will continue over lunch.

The council will then receive a presentation from the EU counterterrorism co-ordinator Gilles de Kerchove on the implementation of the EU strategy and action plan to combat terrorism, progress made over the past six months and priorities for the future. 

The presidency will then update the council on four EU external relations meetings held recently: the ministerial troikas EU-US and EU-Ukraine; EU-Russian Federation JHA Permanent Partnership Council; and the recent conference held in Prague on building migration partnerships.

Under any other business, there will be a presentation by the Commission, at Slovenia’s request, on the state of play concerning visa liberalisation in the western Balkans.

Justice Ministers will be invited to consider two proposed regulations providing mechanisms for negotiation and conclusion of bilateral agreements in the area of civil and family law, where there is external Community competence.  These regulations are in principle welcome, although the Government would have preferred the regulation concerning choice of law to be wider in scope. 

The presidency will present draft conclusions on the common frame of reference on contract law.  These assert, among other things, that the common frame of reference should be a non-binding toolkit for legislators.  The Government agree with this approach and can accept the proposed conclusions.

Ministers will be informed about the first reading deal on ship source pollution agreed with the European Parliament on 5 May.

The presidency will seek council endorsement of the final report on the fourth round of evaluations of the practical operation of the European arrest warrant (EAW). This follows mutual evaluations of how each member state has implemented the framework decision. The UK welcomes the importance that the report places on addressing the issue of proportionality in the context of the EAW

There will be a discussion of the new proposed framework decision on combating sexual abuse and exploitation of children (repealing framework decision 2004/681/JHA).  The Government broadly welcome this proposal and will be seeking to improve it during negotiations. The presidency will report on negotiations on the proposal for a framework decision on preventing and combating human trafficking in human beings and protecting victims (repealing framework decision 2002/629/JHA). The Government welcome this framework decision, recognising the importance of adopting a co-ordinated EU-wide approach, and will seek to promote a balanced approach between prevention, enforcement and victim support in order to ensure measures are most effective.

There will also be a state of play report on the work on European e-justice during the Czech presidency.

The presidency proposes to provide information about implementation of the resolution made under the French presidency on the training of judges.

Under any other business, information will be provided on the recent conference on succession and wills, on the follow-up to the discussion during the April Justice and Home Affairs Council on the financial crisis, on the free trade agreement between the EU and the Republic of South Korea and on a project called “Beyond Winning” undertaken by the ADR centre in Rome.  Slovenia will provide information about its chairmanship of the Council of Europe.